Even for a day, in the three years I was close and personal with Ralph Tenthani, we never agreed on anything. But we were the best of buddies until Sunday 10 2015—the last day we met at Puma Filling Station in Blantyre.
Our last conversation started at 1pm. I was in the office—you know I work on Sundays, producing the Monday paper.
“Iwe, where are you?”
“Ralph, I work on Sunday,” I responded to his call.
“What’s wrong with your paper? You don’t have a good story on the front page, but it appears it has sold out…” he said.
From experience, whenever Ralph said that ndimangodziwiratu that he wanted me to give him the paper.
“Ralph,” I interjected, “just open up that you are broke and you cannot afford to buy a paper.”
“Don’t be stupid,” he said, “I am coming to your office to get a paper from you.”
“Right, now?” I asked.
“In an hour or two…”
“Where are you?”
“Iwe… don’t forget I go to KFC every Sunday with these boys [his two sons]…that is where I am right now…”
“Alright, you will find me…”
As I was waiting for him, my boss, Aubrey Mchulu, assigned me and Lucky Mkandawire to cover a presidential function at Sanjika Palace. We had not dressed up for the occasion. I was supposed to be at Sanjika by 4pm.
By 3pm Ralph had not yet called. So we started off with Lucky. We, at first, had to drive to Lucky’s place in Manja for him to dress. While starting off from Lucky’s place for mine in Chilomoni, Ralph called.
“Are you still at the office?”
“No. I am covering Peter at Sanjika Palace with Lucky, so I am travelling from Manja to Chilomoni to dress up,” I answered.
“Then pass by my house and give me the paper”.
“No. We are racing against time. I have to be in Chilomoni and dress up for the occasion.”
“Dress up for what? Are you naked? Why do you people mind dressing a lot as if it will get you to heaven?”
Ralph had his ways and views of dressing—exclusive to him and him alone. I remember one incident when Facebook went viral with his picture standing on a red carpet dressed in his and only his ways. The picture attracted 4 637 comments of mocking his dressing and it was shared by 893 people.
I was with Rex Chikoko, Ephraim Munthali and Madalitso when I met him a day after his picture went viral.<
He asked me: “I hear I am all over Facebook?”
“Yes,” I answered while the rest broke down, laughing.
“What is it, now?”
I showed him his picture. He looked at it and cleared his throat.
“Tell me,” while inquisitively showing the picture to the rest of us, “what is wrong with the picture?”
We all laughed wondering that he saw nothing wrong with how he dressed and standing on the red carpet.
“People are mocking how you dressed. They are saying you dressed like a tobacco farmer,” I mocked him.
He laughed and responded: “Then why did you not defend me?”
Anyway, I just digressed a bit, let me get back to the last conversation I had with him.
After I had told him I was going to dress up for Sanjika, we agreed we meet after the ceremony.
I called him at around 7pm. He responded that he had found the paper he was looking for, but added he wanted to meet me for other issues. We agreed we meet at Puma Filling Station.
He was in his usual brown short, white shirt and black slippers carrying a bunch of newspapers. He was not driving.
“Why are you looking for me?” I began, for with Ralph we did not waste time greeting each other. He believed, albeit weirdly, greetings were a waste of time.
“I want you to buy me some wine,” he said.
“No,” I interjected, “you are supposed to buy yourself wine. My money is for raising my daughter. What happened to your money?”
“I am saving to buy a new car. I don’t want to waste it.”<
“So, you want to waste my money?”
“Of course, you are not saving for anything. You already have a car and your daughter is still very small.”
Then we vanished to drink some wine at Mount Soche. I left him there and since then I saw him lying dead in the casket at the College of Medicine mortuary in Blantyre. I shall find time for you, Ralph.
- The article appeared in The Nation